Peruse an "astronomical" gallery from Magnum Photos.
"I'm interested," Simon said. "Tell me about it."
That kind of stopped me. The next day, I called Lise Eliot, a professor of neuroscience with a new book about sex difference, Pink Brain, Blue Brain. She didn't sympathize. "How can you not be interested in astronomy?" she asked.
All too easily.
I asked Eliot whether I should feign interest so my kids didn't get the idea that women don't like science. "Having kids is a good opportunity to stretch yourself," she said. "You know, it's a good idea to open your mind, regardless of gender, and try to catch some of their fever. You'll be starting from ground zero, so you'll be asking the questions they're asking."
Well, no, I explained. My kids were way ahead of me.
"Even better!" Eliot responded. "Kids really benefit from being teachers. They learn even better from explaining things to other people than from having things explained to them."
Right. Child-directed learning. I've heard of that. I even like to preach it. And so instead of waving good-bye to my boys and my husband, I went along for a visit to the local planetarium. I did not come away with a lot of facts in my head about black holes. But I did go with my kids into the cold night air to peer through long telescopes at Jupiter and the Andromeda Galaxy. OK, I faked a little excitement. But, hey, one way to learn to walk the walk for real is to start going through the motions.
We bought a small telescope of our own at the planetarium. The next night, Eli and Simon wanted to put it together. My husband, Paul, was out. This was really a double whammy: astronomy and do-it-yourself assembly. But I helped take the pieces out of the box and unfolded the alarmingly cryptic page of instructions.
I would like to report that we successfully built that telescope and that night we trained it on Jupiter and Venus. Alas, those tricky instructions tripped us up, and we couldn't align the telescope's lenses properly, and I was reduced to promising that Paul would help us finish tomorrow. Still, we'd worked on the project together. I got points for that from Eli and Simon. (As it turned out, Paul couldn't figure out how to put the telescope together, either.)
Undeterred, Simon has been asking for a periscope. He also says that when he grows up, he's going to be an astronomer and an astronaut. I mentioned biologist as an alternative a few times. But then I stopped. Now I tell him that I can't wait for him to teach me all about the solar system. Maybe he'll be a rebel astronomer, and someday reform NASA, or call for an end to manned space missions so that the money can be used to fix Social Security? A mother can dream.